Candide grows up in the home of Baron Thunder-ten-tronckh in the German province of Westphalia. His tutor, Dr. Pangloss, teaches him that their world is the best of all possible worlds, and everything that transpires in this world is for the best. Candide accepts Dr. Pangloss’s teachings as absolute truth. Candide admires the Baron’s beautiful daughter, Cunégonde, and they share an innocent kiss after dinner one evening.
Cunégonde’s father sees the young lovers kiss and immediately banishes Candide from his home. This incident begins a miraculous series of misfortunes for all of the novel’s characters. Candide is conscripted into the army, where he is abused (to a nearly absurd degree) and almost executed before escaping to Holland.
In Holland, he is pitied by an Anabaptist who apprentices him and offers him shelter. Soon after, Candide runs into Dr. Pangloss, who has contracted syphilis and is now a poor beggar on the street. Pangloss explains that the Baron, Baroness, Cunégonde, and her brother were disemboweled and killed by soldiers. Pangloss is cured of his illness, and he departs with the Anabaptist and Candide for Lisbon. En route, they are shipwrecked, the Anabaptist dies, and Candide and Pangloss hardly reach shore before a massive earthquake strikes.
In Lisbon, Pangloss is executed for his heretical views and Candide is beaten for approving of them. By a stroke of fortune, Candide is reunited with Cunégonde, who survived the murder attempt described by Pangloss and is now a servant and mistress to two men. But she’s been staving off the sexual advances of the men. Candide kills both of the men and the group escapes, along with their new companion, an old woman, to Buenos Aires. There, the governor of Buenos Aires proposes to Cunégonde and, wary of her financial situation, she accepts.
Meanwhile, the authorities pursue Candide for murder, so he and his faithful servant, Cacambo, escape to a Jesuit camp. The Colonel at the camps turns out to be Cunégonde’s brother, who also survived the disembowelment attack, but has suffered an unimaginable series of misfortunes. The Colonel learns that Cunégonde is alive and that Candide intends to marry her. Although Candide has saved his sister’s life, he still disapproves of the marriage because of Candide’s inferior social status. Candide responds by stabbing him.
Candide and Cacambo travel for several months and ultimately end up in the utopian land of El Dorado. At this point, anything would look great in comparison to where they’ve been, but this place is legitimately off-the-charts with gold and food. While they recognize the country is perfect, Candide is dedicated to the pursuit of Cunégonde and Cacambo is restless. With the help of scientists, the two men leave the country loaded with jewels. Cacambo departs for Buenos Aires, where Candide has instructed him to buy Cunégonde (you could do that in those days), and they plan to reunite in Venice.
After having most of his wealth stolen, Candide departs for France with a hired companion named Martin. In France, Candide and Martin travel in elite circles before departing for Venice. For a long time (at least six pages), they cannot find Cacambo and Cunégonde. Finally, Cacambo appears one night as a servant and informs Candide that Cunégonde is in Turkey. Here we go again.
Everyone leaves for Turkey. Candide buys Cacambo (who has been enslaved) and, when he finds them, he buys Cunégonde and the Old Woman, too. Candide discovers that Dr. Pangloss and Cunégonde’s brother both survived their injuries and are working in the galley. Because by now it seems the thing to do, he buys their freedom as well. Candide marries Cunégonde, but she is now unattractive and everyone is unhappy, especially since the only reason he liked Cunégonde in the first place was because of her looks. Life is terrible until they buy a small farm on which they can spend their days doing hard work, which somehow makes them happy.